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The Earth–Minbari War is a fictional war that formed a major part of the back story of the science fiction television series Babylon 5. The war began in 2245 when an EarthForce (Earth's military force) expeditionary fleet damaged and destroyed vessels of the Minbari Federation fleet, killing Dukhat (leader of the Minbari Grey Council). The Earth fleet's commander misinterpreted the Minbari warrior caste's tradition of approaching a ship with gun ports open as a hostile action and fired on the Minbari vessels. In retaliation for this incident, the Minbari went on a genocidal crusade against Earth and all humans.
The war lasted for two years with Earth Alliance being almost totally outmatched by the Minbari and ended with the unexpected Minbari surrender at the Battle of the Line. The Minbari surrender occurred when they believed that the souls of dead Minbari were being reincarnated in humans and that they shared DNA with the human race. This revelation became part of the story arc of the show and the events of the war itself are depicted in the Babylon 5: In the Beginning TV Movie.
The seeds of the war were planted when Earth Alliance, flush from their victory in the Dilgar War, was expanding its influence and decided to explore Minbari space. Despite the warnings of Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari that the Minbari are an ancient, powerful species and dangerous if provoked, a flotilla of armed vessels was dispatched and led by Captain Michael Jankowski, who was appointed over the objections of capable officers like John Sheridan who considered the captain unsuited to delicate operations like this.
As feared, the war was provoked by Captain Jankowski aboard the warship EAS Prometheus. During the expedition, the Prometheus and her escorts encountered three Minbari cruisers, one of which was carrying the Grey Council, the highest echelon of Minbari society. The Grey Council was en route to investigate reports of sightings of their ancient enemy, the Shadows. Although Jankowski had been given strict orders to not do anything which might be perceived as hostile, Jankowski disobeyed the orders and refused to jump to hyperspace when the Minbari spotted his fleet. He thought that by waiting to the last possible moment to jump, he could gain valuable sensor information about the Minbari cruisers, and this would lead to a promotion and medals from Earthforce Command.
Upon seeing the Earth vessels, the Minbari cruisers opened their gunports as a sign of respect and strength – even though Humans would have no knowledge of such a tradition. Dukhat (realizing this) ordered the gunports closed, but too late. Captain Jankowski misinterpreted the gesture as a sign of hostility, an impression compounded by the fact that the Minbari scanners were so powerful that they inadvertently disabled the Prometheus' jump engines, thus preventing the ship from jumping to hyperspace and escaping. When told by his first officer that his vessel's jump engines had malfunctioned and that the weapons on the Minbari cruisers were "hot" (active), Jankowski panicked and opened fire on the Minbari ships. Dukhat was killed and his protégé Delenn, in a fit of rage, cast the deciding vote on the Council to wage a war of vengeance against Earth. After calming down, Delenn reconsidered, but found that she was helpless to stop the crusade she placed in motion, even while she remained among the loudest voices pleading for a peaceful solution.
The Earth Alliance made efforts to present official apologies to the Minbari through all possible diplomatic channels, and tried to obtain help (military or diplomatic) from neutral alien races such as the Centauri. However, no alien race wanted to incur the wrath of the Minbari military, and so Earth was left to fight alone. That situation was particularly dire as EarthForce learned that Minbari ships had advanced stealth technology that made anything but short range line of sight targeting of weapons impossible. By contrast, the Minbari had no such problems and were able to easily outmatch EarthForce ships in combat effectiveness. Thus naval engagements in that war proved too often became little more than massacres for Humanity, committed by a fanatical foe determined to exterminate them at any cost. Only suicide attacks by Humans such as their capital ships ramming Minbari vessels were occasionally effective, but even then the Minbari typically considered losses in that situation acceptable since Humans were killed in the process.
Immediately following the destruction of Jericho 3, the Minbari struck at half a dozen EarthForce bases in the space of just a few days, leaving no survivors and accepting no surrender. Even ships no longer capable of fighting were targeted and destroyed. All attempts to communicate, including an offer to turn over Michael Jankowski, were rebuffed.
Destruction of the Jericho 3 station
The Minbari fleet continued to move methodically through the outer colonies, eliminating defense structures and moving on, leaving civilian structures untouched. At the time, Earthdome believed this behavior was linked to the Minbari caste system and presumed that the human "warriors" were being targeted first, allowing them to later go back out and exterminate the defenseless civilians.
Knowing they were clearly out-gunned, EarthDome quickly attempted to acquire more advanced weaponry from their trading partners, the Centauri Republic. The requests were rebuffed as the Centauri had no intention of siding against the Minbari. The Republic's sworn enemies, the Narn Regime, proved to be more than willing to do business, especially with the hope of provoking the Minbari to attack the Centauri since Narn weaponry was derived from their former occupiers' technology
Destruction of the Black Star
In April 2247, two dozen Earth warships were lost to hit-and-run attacks in the space of only three weeks. Though no personnel had survived an attack, word at the time was that there was some kind of ace cruiser on the prowl. That theory was proved correct when a small fleet led by the EAS Lexington was attacked in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Lexington itself was crippled in the opening salvo as the Minbari flagship Drala Fi (Black Star) jumped into the middle of the fleet, killing its commander, Captain Roger Sterns and left to drift while the Black Star engaged the remainder of the fleet. John Sheridan had his crew seed several nearby asteroids with a trio of two-megaton tactical nuclear warheads, then sent out a distress call to lure the Black Star back to their position since Minbari doctrine dictated destroying all humans without mercy. As the Minbari cruiser moved into range for a clear shot, Sheridan remotely detonated the warheads and obliterated the Drala Fi. EarthDome wasted no time in capitalizing on what was to date the only victory in the entire war, broadcasting the footage throughout the Alliance. For their part the Minbari were less than impressed; the Warrior caste in particular were affronted at being defeated by such "dishonorable" tactics and Sheridan would become infamously reviled as "Starkiller". For their part, Earth justified Sheridan's attack as an act of legitimate asymmetrical warfare in self-defence against an enemy despicably determined to kill all of the enemy without mercy no matter how defeated and helpless they are.
In the midst of all this, the Minbari Ranger leader, Lenonn, secretly made contact with the Narns at the behest of Satai Delenn in hopes of opening peace talks. EarthGov agreed to an initial meeting in neutral territory, sending Sheridan along with a Dr. Stephen Franklin and G'Kar of the Narn Regime to make sure the offer was serious before sending in the negotiators. Travelling aboard a Narn ship, the team arrived at the agreed-upon rendezvous: a nameless abandoned Drazi colony and a one-time EarthForce listening post in the Epsilon System. The meeting was cut short when an unknown party destroyed the Narn ship in orbit and bombarded the surface, killing Lenonn. The Minbari soon arrived and retrieved Lenonn's body, though Satai Delenn chose to simply release the two Human prisoners rather than execute them. Both the Minbari Federation and the Earth Alliance assumed that the attack had been perpetrated by a rogue faction of their own government. It wasn't until decades later that the truth was made known. The attack had in fact originated from the Centauri Republic, ordered by Londo Mollari who had learned of the Narn mission though his sources close to the Kha'Ri and assumed it had been an arms shipment.
By this point in the war, somewhere between fifty and sixty thousand Humans had been killed. With the one hope for peace ruined, the war escalated. Over the next six months 200,000 more would die.
Battle of Sinzar
In the Battle of Sinzar, a crippled Earth cruiser deliberately rammed a damaged Minbari warcruiser that was attempting to escape, destroying both ships in the process. At Flinn Colony, ground-based weapons forced the Minbari to land warriors on the planet and incredible hand-to-hand combat raged across the planet's surface. Though the Minbari were always victorious, they more often than not came away from these battles battered and bruised. In the early days of the war, the humans were perceived as cowards and savages, as evidenced by their unprovoked assault and murder of Dukhat. However, as this demonised image of humanity proved more and more to be false, many Minbari, particularly in the Worker and Religious Caste, began to doubt the justification for war.
Battle of the Line
The Minbari were determined to utterly annihilate the younger species by the time their fleet finally reached the Human homeworld. To give Earth's civilian population time to flee to neutral territory, military and civilian leaders on Earth desperately organized a grand last stand. Nearly all of the Earth Alliance's remaining warships, fighters, and personnel were combined into a vast armada of more than 20,000 vessels (many of which are fighters). They were placed in near-Earth orbit and waited for the Minbari to strike.
In the engagement that came to be known as the Battle of the Line, an enormous fleet of Minbari warcruisers jumped from hyperspace and attacked the human armada with overwhelming firepower. They swiftly destroyed almost all of the EarthForce defenders, with the Human pilots reduced to desperate kamikaze tactics. On the cusp of a total Minbari victory, the Minbari ceased fire and surrendered unconditionally to Earth. A great deal of wild speculation was voiced about what could have caused this drastic capitulation. However, the Minbari's governing Grey Council never revealed the official reason, even to their own people.
With the war over, the Earth Alliance pledged to build a diplomatic space station in neutral territory to promote galactic peace and prevent such misunderstandings in the future; the fifth and final station was known as Babylon 5. Having survived the Earth-Minbari war and with many colonies and outposts untouched by the Minbari, EarthForce was able to initiate an impressive rebuilding, expansion and militarization program. This proved to be a big success as in the next decade the Earth Alliance became a lot more advanced in comparison with the technology they possessed during the Earth-Minbari war. Besides rebuilding, EarthForce also pursued an aggressive research and technology program to close the gap with other races (especially the Centauri and the Minbari) as much as possible. Besides the advancement of Earth technology, they were also able to acquire more and more advanced Shadow technology (Omega-X Destroyer and Shadow Hybrid), Vorlon technology (Victory Destroyer, although the vessel officially belonged to the Interstellar Alliance) and Minbari technology (Warlock Destroyer, a combination of Earth technology and a smaller degree of Minbari and Shadow technology, which also featured artificial gravity without the need for a rotating section).
After the devastating Earth-Minbari war, the Earth Alliance wanted never again to be in such a vulnerable position as they were back then. Investing heavily into diplomacy (Babylon 5) and military technology (Omega Destroyer, Warlock Destroyer, Thunderbolt fighter) Earth aimed to live in peace with the other alien races (with especially a focus on the Minbari), but also wanted to be able to defend against any alien attack, also with a special focus on the Minbari.
At the end of 2261, the Earth Alliance entered the Interstellar Alliance, whose purpose was to promote peace, prosperity and understanding among all the member worlds, on the condition that every race agreed and accepted the Interstellar Alliance code of conduct.
Members of the Interstellar Alliance would include the Earth Alliance, the Minbari Federation, the Narn Regime, the Centauri Republic (withdrew in 2262, but rejoined after being liberated from the Drakh in 2278) the Drazi Freehold and the Brakiri Syndicracy, but there were many others as well.
- Straczynski, J. Michael (2001). "Babylon 5 Universe: The Earth-Minbari War". midwinter.com. Retrieved August 31, 2013.